US’ Duplicitous Take on Human Rights Issues
America’s global engagement cannot be defined by what we are against . It must be guided by a clear sense of what we stand for.
President Barack Obama, 2008.
The 12th Nov election of US as well as Pakistan to UN Human Rights Council (HRC), once viewed in the backdrop of the pre-balloting verbal broadsides emanating from US diplomats, has made manifest a flimsy self image that stands out in stark conflict with prevailing ground realities . Just days before the election, during HRC’s Universal Periodic Review Meeting in Geneva, the US Ambassador , Eileen Donahoe , harangued Pakistan; by referring to military operations in the Baluchistan Province “aimed at silencing dissent”.
Donahoe lectured Pakistan to “ensure that those guilty of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings must be prosecuted”. Prominent by their absence were expression of any passing concerns regarding the human rights violations being committed in the Indian Held Kashmir by Indian Forces operating under the unfettered freedom of action provided by Draconian laws , the atrocities committed by the US sponsored rebel groups in Libya and currently in Syria or the human rights aspects of an unrestrained Drone War in North Western territories of Pakistan critically impinging upon the social and cultural fabric in FATA Region as well as its devastating impact on hinterland.
Despite the US slandering campaign, Pakistan contested and won the election for one of the five seats allocated to the Asia – Pacific Group, securing the privilege to serve on the 47 member Council from 2013 to 2015. While Pakistan sailed through the election , the US had a tough pool and an ingrained opposition to contend with. The conduct of global war on terror comes with the burden of trampling over human rights considerations and it was a measure US’ maligned position that their diplomats were visibly nervous as they campaigned and competed with Germany, Greece, Ireland and Sweden for three seats among eighteen on the panel , decided by direct voting by the UN General Assembly. At the end US managed to secure a seat but it was manifest that American moral authority stood eroded; their squeaky clean human rights image having undergone an unequivocal and perhaps irrevocably battered and blackened transformation. The point is not lost on the Americans; candidate Obama had pointed out to the perils raked up by US’ kill-first-ask- questions-later approach in an article that appeared in 2007. “To build a better, freer world” he wrote, “we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. this means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of law”. It is a pity though that in his stewardship as President, the human rights violations by US armed Forces , particularly his unadulterated admiration for drone attacks involving untenable collateral damage, has only shot up to unprecedented levels.
The lost US credibility is no where more evident than in Pakistan where US disregard for human rights has generated a strong backlash which is manifest through emergence of a strong anti-American sentiment and has provided the terrorist recruiters with their most sellable pitch. According to a recently released report, “Living under Drones” compiled by researchers from Stanford and New York University Law School, the civilian casualties, including those of children, euphemistically termed as ‘collateral damage’, have become the blind spot for US political leadership and military planners. The Obama administration “in effect counts all military age males [killed] in a strike zone as combatants”. Despite US claims that there have been “no” or “single digit” civilian casualties the researchers have accumulated data which indicates that since 2004, when drone strikes commenced, 2562 – 3325 people in Pakistan of whom 474 – 881 were civilians including 176 children have been killed in Drone strikes. The civilian toll includes the 40 deaths when a tribal jirga was targeted in March 2011. Was the chain of command which caused such prominent blunder ever called in for accountability remains an unanswered question.
The Report chronicles that apart from pain caused by casualties , the open season declared in North Western Pakistan has profoundly changed the lives of ordinary civilians who live under constant anxiety and trauma. Over areas, such as North Waziristan, the drones circle incessantly at around a height of 5000 feet keeping mothers and children awake in the night ; fearful that an unjustified strike may be triggered any moment. According to the report people shy away from gathering in groups , including important dispute – resolution jirgas, out of fear that these might attract strikes. Many parents have chosen to keep their children at home instead of attending school to keep them out of harm’s way. According to the report the “strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial and made family members afraid to attend funerals”. In addition , the families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to make ends meet in harsh and unforgiving economic conditions.
In the context of Baluchistan, while the US has picked up the unsubstantiated rumors of human rights excesses to castigate Pakistan, she has conveniently chosen to keep her eyes wide shut in regard to her considerable role in letting the Baloch dissidents establish training and logistics camps in Southern Afghanistan which are routinely used to organize strikes inside the restive Province. The dissident Baloch Sardars, including Brahamdagh Bugti have enjoyed the Afghan hospitality with a wink and a nod from the NATO/ISAF setup to promote their subversive agenda in a democratically run Baluchistan. The collusion of Afghan and Indian intelligence under the indirect patronage by the American Forces has crippled writ of the civil government to an extent where the Frontier Corps troops have to be requisitioned to let the system remain functional. In Afghanistan where not much moves without a US blessing it will be a great service to the promotion of human rights in Baluchistan if the sanctuaries of Baluch insurgents in Afghanistan are removed and the governance by the Baluchistan civilian setup facilitated to ensure that the Government’s writ becomes effective enough to return the Frontier Corps to their primary task; which is maintenance of a strong vigil on the highly porous Pak-Afghan Border in peacetime.